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India?s children at bottom of hunger heap

A ministry report has revealed that the Integrated Child Development Scheme has failed, reports Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2006 03:18 IST

Africa is proud — for its children fare better than those in India. If the government is to be believed, Indian children are worse than the United Nation’s sub-Saharan poster boy with rickety arms, swollen belly and protruding eyes symbolising malnutrition and hunger. 

The ministry of Women and Child Development for the first time admitted that its Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has failed to achieve the desired results. The admission comes in the wake of the Supreme Court and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen expressing dissatisfaction over the implementation of the scheme.

In an internal document on the ICDS, the ministry admitted that despite a high economic growth of eight per cent every year, malnutrition in the age group of 0-6 years has declined only by one per cent over the past eight years.

“The prevalence of child nutrition in India is among the highest in the world, nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa, with dire consequences for morbidity, mortality, productivity and economic growth.”

Lack of political and bureaucratic will, especially among poorer states, has been cited as a major reason for the failure. The paper also lists the drawbacks in the scheme’s implementation, saying it was not reaching enough children, under three years of age, when nutrition interventions are the most effective.

The poorest states with the highest number of malnourished children have lowest levels of programme funding and coverage. “ICDS also faces substantial operational challenges,” the paper says.

The food schemes, as the ministry has found out, do not serve the purpose, The kitchdi-dalia staple is inadequate as children below three years require more fat content in food to meet the prescribed calories.

The ministry also wants to ban packaged food labelled “micronutrients” as it was leading to “political and bureaucratic” corruption. Instead, attempts should be made to satisfy calorie and protein needs through locally-prepared food, which may include eggs, vegetable, milk and fruits. For children below three, the ministry has recommended locally prepared take-home ration (THR).

To overcome hurdles and learn from past mistakes, minister Renuka Chaudhary has proposed restructuring the scheme with stress on more nutritious and balanced food for children. The ministry wants that restructured schemes to be first implemented in 100 backward districts, where the malnutrition level is high.